The Empire of Portugal
Portuguese explorers began exploring the coast of Africa in 1419, using the latest developments in navigation, cartography and maritime technology such as the caravel, to find a sea route to the source of the lucrative spice trade. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1498, Vasco da Gama reached India.
The Portuguese Empire was guaranteed by the papal bull of 1493 and the Treaty of Tordesillas of 6 June 1494. These two actions (and related bulls and treaties) divided the world outside of Europe in an exclusive duopoly between the Portuguese and the Spanish. The dividing line in the Western Hemisphere was established along a north-south meridian 370 leagues (1550 km; 970 miles) west of the Cape Verde islands (off the west coast of Africa) (and the antipodal line extended around the globe to divide the Eastern Hemisphere). As a result, all of Africa and almost all of Asia would belong to Portugal, while almost all of the New World would belong to Spain.
The Pope’s initial proposal of the line was moved a little west by John II, and it was accepted. However, the new line granted Brazil and (thought at that time) Newfoundland to Portugal both in 1500. As the distance proposed by John II is not “round” (370 leagues), some see the evidence that Portugal knew the existence of those lands before the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494).
In 1500, (through accidental landfalls on the South American coast for some communities and by the crown’s secret design for others,) Pedro Álvares Cabral would find and lead to the establishment of the colony of Brazil. Over the following decades, Portuguese sailors continued to explore the coasts and islands of East Asia, establishing forts and trading posts as they went. By 1571, a string of outposts connected Lisbon to Nagasaki: the empire had become truly global, and in the process brought great wealth to Portugal.
In 1503, an expedition under the command of Gonçalo Coelho found the French making incursions on the land that is today Brazil. John III, in 1530, organized the colonization of Brazil around 15 capitanias hereditárias (“hereditary captainships”), that were given to anyone who wanted to administer and explore them. That same year, there was a new expedition from Martim Afonso de Sousa with orders to patrol the whole Brazilian coast, banish the French, and create the first colonial towns: São Vicente on the coast, and São Paulo on the border of the altiplane. From the 15 original captainships, only two, Pernambuco and São Vicente, prospered. With permanent settlement came the establishment of the sugar cane industry and its intensive labor demands which were met with Native American and later African slaves. Deeming the capitanias system ineffective, Tomé de Sousa, the first Governor-General was sent to Brazil in 1549. He built the capital of Brazil, Salvador at the Bay of All Saints.
From 1565 through 1567 Mem de Sá, a Portuguese colonial official and the third Governor General of Brazil, successfully destroyed a ten year-old French colony called France Antarctique, at Guanabara Bay. He and his nephew, Estácio de Sá, then founded the city of Rio de Janeiro in March 1567.
In 1578, the Portuguese crusaders crossed into Morocco and were routed by Ahmed Mohammed of Fez, at the Alcazarquivir also known as “the battle of the Three Kings”. King Sebastian of Portugal was almost certainly killed in battle or subsequently executed. The Crown was handed over to his sister, the wife of Spain’s King Philip who, in turn, seized the opportunity to extend his control over Portugal. This episode marked the end of Portugal’s global ambitions.
Between 1580 and 1640 Portugal became the junior partner to Spain in the Iberian Union of the two countries’ crowns. Though the empires continued to be administered separately, Portuguese colonies became the subject of attacks by three rival European powers hostile to Spain and envious of Iberian successes overseas: Holland (which was engaged in a war of independence against Spain), England and France.
Between 1638 and 1640, the Netherlands came to control part of Brazil’s Northeast region, with their capital in Recife. The Portuguese won a significant victory in the Second Battle of Guararapes in 1649. By 1654, the Netherlands had surrendered and returned control of all Brazilian land to the Portuguese.
Although Dutch colonies in Brazil were wiped out, during the course of the 17th century the Dutch were able to occupy Ceylon, the Cape of Good Hope, and the East Indies, and to take over the trade with Japan at Nagasaki. Portugal’s Asiatic territories were reduced to bases at Macau, East Timor and Portuguese India.
The loss of colonies was one of the reasons that contributed to the end of the personal union with Spain. In 1640 John IV was proclaimed King of Portugal and the Portuguese Restoration War began. In 1668 Spain recognized the end of the Iberian Union and in exchange Portugal ceded Ceuta to the Spanish crown.
Brazil would become the main centre for Portuguese colonial ambitions; firstly wood, sugar, coffee and other cash crops. Until the 17th century most colonial activity was restricted to areas near the coast. The Amazon basin was, under Torsedillas, considered Spanish territory, as confirmed by explorers like Orellana, but left largely unoccupied except for missions around some of its outlying areas. However throughout the 17th and 18th centuries Bandeirantes gradually extended their activities, at first primarily in search of indigenous people to enslave for the demands of the plantations, and later for gems and precious metals as well, in an ever westward expansion.
In 1693 major gold deposits were found at Minas Gerais, leading to Brazil becoming the largest supplier of gold. Gems and diamonds have also become an important part of mining activities. The strongly rising demand of sugar and coffee in Europe has brought further wealth.
Unlike Spain, Portugal did not divide its territory in America. The Captaincies created there are subordinated to a centralized administration in Salvador which reports directly to the Crown in Lisbon.